Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The swamp at the top of the world

Sunday evening we spent some time perusing The Book and all of the various advertising magazines that we had picked up, planning the rest of our week. I should say, I perused and planned and Jeff nodded his head and grunted in agreement. 
We knew that the first thing we wanted to do was see Waimea Canyon, as it had been suggested to us by several people. There are several possible hikes in the canyon, none of them easy and some requiring a 4WD vehicle, so our choice was easily narrowed down. The Pihea trail begins at the last lookout, Pu'u O Kila, and after two miles you can turn onto the Alaka'i Swamp Trail, which takes you through the highest swamp in the world. It is a most unique trail, unlike on other, so the choice was easy.

We got (what we thought was) an early start, first driving south to the entrance of the canyon, then twenty miles of canyon and views from the lookouts.

The canyon was formed of lava, cut through deeply by river and floods that were fed by the rains falling on Mount Wai'ale'ale, one of the wettest places on earth and almost always covered by clouds. The canyon is ten miles long, one mile wide, and 3,500 feet deep.  

We were here!
We were going to do a self-portrait, but, as happened several times, a kind stranger saved us from ourselves.

Hawaiian geese, know as nenes, hang out at the lookouts.
Don't feed the nenes!

We asked about the condition of the trail at the Koke'e Museum and were happy to hear that, even though it had rained all night, the trail wasn't very muddy. So we drove to the end of the road and girded up our loins.
I had taken two disassembled hiking poles with me on the plane. I was having trouble reassembling them and asked Jeff to help. He, of course, promptly broke one, but then I got it figured out so that at least I had a pole.
And I am the most important person in this twosome, so it worked out!
This is the view at the beginning of the hike.

I dare you to find the line where sea ends and sky begins.

The trail descended at first and was a bit slick. I began to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach about this hike.

Then up up up it went.

And up some more.

There was a lot of up and down on the first couple of miles. In this next photo, you can kind of see where the trail follows the top of the next ridge.

Sometimes, it was so steep that we had to put our feet in the footholds made by hundreds of hikers before us.

Every now and then, the trees would open up and we would be treated to views of the Kalalau Valley, and the breeze would blow softly and give us a little break from the heat.

Then the boardwalk began and life was a little easier. This boardwalk was built in the late 90's and is often in need of repair, but it beats slogging through the mud.

One of the many species of Hawaiian ginger. These bloomed along the trail and they scented the air rather nicely.

Things started to look a bit different after we turned off to the swamp. The trees got smaller and the air was cooler.

We had caught up with a friendly Californian named Henry, who seemed inclined to join us. It was nice to have someone new in the conversation. He had pink hair. 

There are no tall trees in the swamp itself, just shrubs and grasses. The swamp is a 20 square mile plateau, sitting at 4,000 feet on top of impervious lava rock. It isn't a true swamp, but a very boggy tropical rain forest. Most of the water on Kaua'i comes from Alaka'i. When it rains, which it does almost every day, water overflows and seeps through cracks and fissures, creating waterfalls on the mountainsides. This may be why almost all of the island's streams and rivers are infected with the bacterium leptospirosis, which can cause some nasty diseases and even death. The water in the waterfalls looks so clean and pure, but you have to keep reminding yourself that it comes from The Bog!

The fog rolls in and out and it's a little spooky. I wouldn't want to hike this on my own.

Old power poles line the trail. They were built by the American government during the Second World War as an alternate power source in case the Japanese took Lihue.

We seemed to be hiking through the swamp forever, much longer than two miles.

Finally, we made it to the Kilohana Lookout, where, if you are very lucky, you will be treated to one of the best views in the world, looking all the way to the Napali Coast in the north. 
Or so they say.

We were not. Which is okay, because we enjoyed many great views and persevered to the end of the swamp, so we felt very mighty.

We sat and rested our feet and ate power food for half an hour or so, while I chastised the fog. We shared our nuts and cranberries with Henry, who thought I was pretty hilarious.
And then we turned around and hiked back.

And then we went home to the geckos.
It was the second hardest hike of my life, eight miles of fairly grueling terrain, but I loved almost every minute of it. If you are interested in this hike, there is a good description of it here, with some other historical tidbits and a photo of the view we missed.

Casualty of the day: one hiking pole.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mad dogs and pooping geckos.

Before I start the narrative of Sunday, I should tell you about the first place I booked through my usual suspect, airbnb. The website has served me well over the last few years, but I bombed a little on this trip. 
Both of the accommodations were somewhat lacking in different areas. The first was a comfortable room in what seemed to be almost a commune of new-agey women. The owner of the house was on the mainland, looking after her mother, so her friend and house-sitter was our host. Also living on the property (in a yurt) was another older woman and (in a small cabin) a couple of young things who came and went at all hours.  The house was comfortable and decorated with Buddhas and Zen-like inspirational sayings. There were two cats that necessitated a lot of rules about which doors could be open to the outdoors and when, which I never seemed to quite get right. There was no microwave, of course, although the kitchen was modern in other ways. The two older women appeared to only eat fruit. 

There was a rather primitive outdoor shower, in which one had to use a flashlight after dark. The shower was right next to a pathway that was well-traveled by the other residents, which made Jeff extremely uncomfortable, being the only male on the premises. I should mention that there was no door, only the hope that no one would peer slightly askance through the opening as they walked past.
The bed was surprisingly comfortable and we should have slept well, except for the roosters crowing until about midnight and then starting again three or four hours later. More on island roosters later.
All in all, I should have spent twenty dollars more a night and gone for something a little more high-class.

We were checking out of this place on Sunday morning and into our new one later in the day.

This spider resided outside our door.

The plan was to do a minor sort of a hike in the morning, to some falls that had been recommended to us, then catch the afternoon shift at church before checking into our new place.
We drove down to Kapa'a and found the road that was the entry point to Ho'opii Falls. We had a copy of the definitive guide to Kaua'i, which described the location of the trail.

Tip #3: You need this book. They were selling it at Costco in Lihue. It is updated with a new edition every year or so and is witty and informative. We took their recommendations for tour companies and were not disappointed.

We parked as directed in the book and took what looked like the obvious trail. It was a lovely wide trail that wound between houses and was lined with fruit trees. Suddenly, what looked like two pit bulls came running at us, barking their heads off. Jeff pushed me behind him (he's chivalrous that way) and I yelled at the dogs to get away. We were immediately confronted by an angry dog owner who said NO, YOU GET AWAY! We tried to explain that we were looking for a waterfall  (damn tourists) but he kept yelling at us and told us we were trespassing. We backed away and retraced our steps, very confused because we hadn't seen a No Trespassing sign and we figured we would have to give up the search for the waterfalls and that maybe the omniscient book had been wrong in this case. 

What should we see but this, when we reached the road.

It was not particularly obvious, but we felt a little bad, because locals often feel harassed by tourists.
Luckily, a young couple turned up who were also looking for the falls, so we put our heads together and found the entrance to the trail a few yards down the road.
There's something about the instant bond that we made with other hikers on this trip, almost all of us carrying the same darn book and scratching our heads, trying to find obscure trails and marveling at the views.

The trail follows the stream/river most of the way.

The falls were not overwhelming, but the hike was fun and challenging in its own way, as secondary trails constantly led us astray.

Tip #4: Do not wear jeans on Kaua'i. Ever. You will die of sweat.

There was a second waterfall further down the trail, so on we went, scrambling up the hill and holding onto roots, hoping we were on the right trail.

This young man was sitting on a rock in the middle of the river, reading aloud. We couldn't distinguish his words because of the noise of the river.
Sometimes, ya just gotta roll your eyes and walk on.

Shampoo ginger was plentiful along the trail, only I didn't find out what it was until after we had passed it. It's the same stuff that Paul Mitchell uses in his very expensive shampoos. You squeeze the red part and it's very nice for washing your hair. 
I would have totally done it.

Sometimes the trail was like this, and we had to clamber under and over tree branches.

Sometimes it was like this and we were swishing through the undergrowth.

This flower grew abundantly in African tulip trees. Not much of the flora that thrives on Kaua'i is native.

Philodendrons are like the English ivy of the Pacific Northwest. Their huge leaves cover many trees.

This old dune buggy was in the middle of nowhere, almost absorbed by the undergrowth.

We reached the second falls, but did some backtracking along the way so didn't have time to go all the way down the cliff to them. We returned on a trail that ran higher above the river and went to our new abode to take a quick shower before church.

The church services were quite delightful, so familiar yet uniquely Polynesian. Afterwards, our rental car guy met us in the parking lot, as our 2003 old Dodge Neon had developed some brake trouble. He gave us the Hyundai Santa Fe he was driving, which we kept for the rest of our stay. A nice free upgrade. We were very happy with Gingerbread Rent-a-Car, thank you very much, at $25 a day.

We checked in at our new place, which had been described as a "rustic" cottage.
Well, rustic it was, complete with outside shower (albeit nicer than the last one) and pooping, croaking geckos, who appeared in large numbers after the sun went down and who pooped and croaked all night. And did I mention the mosquitoes who could not be kept out of the house, no matter how hard we tried.

Oh yes. Life is good on the island of Kaua'i.

Allerton Gardens

On Saturday morning we took a drive down to the south shore of the island, having several possibilities in mind. One of them was a visit to the McBryde/Allerton Gardens, famous gardens of the National Tropical Botanical Garden organization. 
Jeff loved driving on Kaua'i. Speed limits max out at 50 mph, and there are not too many stretches of that. 
This mile-long tunnel of trees was curious. I later discovered that they are eucalyptus trees and were planted in 1911 as a gift to the community by the Pineapple Baron himself, Walter McBryde. The trees were left over from his own landscaping projects. They were stripped to the bare branches by Hurricane Iniki on September 11th, 1992, but have recovered nicely. You can still see many lasting effects of that hurricane on Kaua'i.

We were unpleasantly surprised by the tour prices for the gardens, but Jeff really wanted to do the three-hour guided tour around the Allerton Gardens, so I gulped and forked over the credit card. Luckily, we had this coupon book  and got a 10% discount.

Tip #2: Pick up and peruse thoroughly all of the coupon books you will see outside stores. They won't save you a fortune, but every bit helps on this expensive island.

We were warned about mosquitoes, and I should have listened, so I picked up my first large batch of mosquito bites in the gardens, thanks to all the water features.

We boarded the bus and listened to the garrulous guide as we traveled down a dirt road to the entrance to the gardens. The air conditioning wasn't working very well and I was not happy. We passed this gorgeous view, the site of the house of Robert Allerton, wealthy heir to the founder of the First National Bank of Chicago. He had a lifelong passion for garden design, sculpture, and landscape architecture, and traveled the world with his gay lover/adopted son, collecting statues for his gardens. 

Queen Emma of Hawaii was the original owner of the land, and the McBrydes purchased the whole valley in the late 1900's for a pineapple plantation. Allerton purchased 80 acres in 1938 and spent the rest of his life developing the gardens and pushing for the establishment of a tropical botanical garden on US soil. He witnessed the granting of a charter and the creation of the organization a year before he died.

The gardens are less about rampant hues and more about layers of texture, shapes, and subtle variants of colour. This orchid was an exception.

Breadfuit trees line the path. The guide was effusive in his praise of the nutritious benefits of the lowly breadfruit. Apparently, we should all be eating it. 
I find most guides to be a bit annoying. They foist their lifestyle, opinions, and often dubious information onto their captive audience, and then hold their hand out for a "gratuity" at the end of the tour. This guy had the temerity to voice his opinion that the Christian missionaries (who, apparently, only prayed on Sundays) had a real nerve trying to tell the native Hawaiians (who prayed to their gods all day, every day) how to be spiritual. Yeah, I made a rather loud comment about that one.

Oh thank you, I feel better now!

This deer statue was kind of scary.

We sampled fruit in the tropical fruit orchard. Jeff is eating pummelo, which was much sweeter than any I have tasted.

I picked up a few macadamia nuts from under a tree, so I hid them in my little purse and made Jeff crack them open for me later. They are tough little buggers! And only one was viable, but it was delicious.

There are distinct rooms in the garden, and you can see the different textures created by plants on the floor, walls, and ceiling.
I will now let the pictures do the talking.

This clumping golden bamboo (which has random green stripes on every section) is spectacular. It grows at a rate of eighteen inches a day. When the wind blows, it cracks and creaks above your head. I would estimate that it was about twenty feet tall.

These ficus trees were used by Steven Spielberg in Jurassic park. 
I love them, but will only subject you to three of the myriad of photos I took.

We had planned to do more, but were pretty wiped out by the end of the tour, so we went back to our little nest in the trees.

Mahalo for reading.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Driving, driving, driving.....

After we indulged in the shave ice, we drove down to Costco in Lihue, the biggest town on Kaua'i. I could already tell that we needed a backup plan for food, as it is very expensive in the restaurants, fruit stands, and grocery stores. We bought apple strudel pastries, energy bars, rolls, a pineapple, bananas, and a roasted chicken. Oh, and a couple of gorgeous sarongs from a special event that was going on. 

Tip #1: By all means, sample the local cuisine, but be thankful for Costco. We ate for three days on that chicken and other prepared food,  for less than we paid for one dinner in Kapa'a. Costco's prices are not much more than what we pay on the mainland, except for bananas, which are almost twice the price. Go figure. And the pineapples are so much more delicious than we get at home, even though they all come from Maui. Can't figure that one out either.

Then back up north to the famous Kilauea point lighthouse. It was built in 1913 as a navigational guide for ships on the orient run. Today it is a National Wildlife Refuge. Many native and endangered coastal plant species have been restored here. It costs $5 a person to enter the area.

The setting is sublime, and the cliffs and air space are teeming with sea birds. The red-footed booby makes its home here and can be seen in large numbers, roosting in the trees that line the cliffs and swooping over the waves. 

The parents leave the babies alone during the day and return to their nests at night with food.
This little guy was under some bushes right next to the museum.

Giant frigate birds, whose wings can reach spans of seven feet, also ride the wind. Their long wings and short legs make them ill-adapted to land on the water, so they spend their days trying to make the boobies drop their prey so that they can steal it. 
It took many tries to get a focused photo of the frigate bird, they never stand still!

There are supposedly albatrosses in the area, but I am not sure if we saw any.

We drove most of the road on the north shore, almost to where it runs out at Ke'e Beach, a few miles past Hanalei. There are many one-way bridges, and the road gets progressively narrower the closer it gets to the end. The only way you can see the incredibly beautiful Napali Coast is by sea or air, as there are no roads. You can hike it for about eleven miles, but even the hiking trails run out eventually. Somehow, the hippies have figured out how to get to some of the best beaches and they live there.

This is a very famous view of the taro fields of Hanalei.

And that was our Friday. We drove up and down the coast a fair amount and felt like we were getting a handle on the island. The gorgeousness of the scenery was incomparable.